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Still Life with Woodpecker

Two weekends ago, we took a break from researching-n-reading and headed down to Olympia. We visited the Burfoot Park at low tide, where clams and cockles squirted our ankles and we saw tube worms, a spiny pink seastar, green shore crabs, and oodles of sand dollars. It was possibly one of the most mind-bogglingly amazing and magical experiences of the entire summer.

Read more about this amazing and magical experience here.

We also ate delicious Bearded Lady desserts, petted two small poodles, spent quality time with quality friends, and picked handfuls and handfuls and handfuls of blackberries. To quote Jess:

“We have a problem with invasive Himalayan blackberries in my area. They are awful, aggressive beastly creatures with giant thorns as big as lion claws. But for a small part of the year, the invasive bramble bushes lay out heavy loads of fat, juicy berries.”

Jess also mentions that loads of fat, juicy berries also make loads of delicious, sweet jam.  I did precious little to make this jam (aside from picking berries and licking the over-spill from the stove), but I found it so satisfying that things picked for free and with my own hands wound up in something delicious that can be stored and enjoyed and consumed and shared with friends and loved ones.

So of course I wanted to do it again.

Last summer was unusually warm (bumper tomato crops, sunburns) and the berries were all exceptionally enormous and juicy and actually jumped off the bush and into your waiting hand. As a result, some of our first dates went like this: hikes (result: picking blackberries), ferry rides (result: picking blackberries), and clandestine berry sampling behind Island Ambiance carpets (the result of picking blackberries). This summer was unusually grey (hungry bees, little exposed skin), so you’d think that the the opposite would occur…

But nary! While they weren’t as large as usual and didn’t ripen ’til several weeks later than scheduled, the berries were still out in abundance.

Being that Paul is actually, you know, from Bainbridge, he knew all of the best berry-picking spots; and some of the heaviest vines with the fattest berries were right past the back yards of million-dollar waterfront properties. I’m talking oodles of berries here and all of them free for the taking! Awesome, right? Well, kind of.

The thing about being confronted with such a bounty is that you are faced with an uncontrollable urge to collect as many berries as possible– even if it means stepping over low-lying native blackberries or reaching further into the bush than originally intentioned– and that means lots of scratches. To add to that: Washington State blackberries bear absolutely no resemblance to the neat little pints that you pick up at the grocery store. These suckers are juicy. Our hands looked like murder scenes, I’d all but ruined a pair of shoes, and the plastic bags that we thought would be sturdy enough… weren’t.

But enough of the downside: we had 5 pounds of blackberries! And because of Jess, I wanted to make more blackberry jam.

Thanks to having limited square footage (including a tiny, tiny kitchen), I went with the suggestion of my classmate’s mom and decided to make freezer jam. The principle here is pretty much the same, with the exception of not having to boil everything or sterilize glass jars. Simply mash it all up (the berries we’d picked required precious little mashing), bring a package of pectin to a boil, stir for 3 more minutes, pop it into Tupperware containers, and allow it to set for 24 hours.

This sounded simple enough, but I neglected to adhere to a certain principle of jamming: Follow the Recipe. My using an extra half cup of blackberries and adding the juice of two lemons was not okay. After waiting for a day I had delicious lemony, basil-y blackberry sauce instead of jam.

Oh, well. It tastes amazing on pancakes… and it is so sweet, just like summer romance.

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There is not much to write about art or math, because we have been busy doing art and math until art and math seep from our pores.

Wait, scratch that.

Paul has been busy doing math (basic algebraic sequences) and reading up on fractals, while I have been busy beating my head on the desk illustrating a drawing book. I could rehash our discussions on color harmonics, temperament, and mathematics-within-nature-within-beauty; and I could natter on about t-squares and compasses, or plotting a star from a pentagram from a vesica piscis, or the steady stream of curse words that flow when the ink bleeds out, but…

I just won’t.

Tip of the iceberg.

I mean, why rehash it at all when I’d rather talk about the delicious foods we’ve been making and how happy they’ve made me?

Massaged kale salad, beans with sesame, and eggplants with yogurt.

Understand this: I could eat kale ’til my eye-whites turn green and Paul has this thing for all things Turkish.

And this is what happens when you combine a Massaged Kale Salad recipe (yes, “massaged”) with The Ottoman Kitchen cookbook:

I’ve eaten raw kale before, so I had my doubts about the salting; but much like with eggplant, salted kale loses any trace of bitterness and becomes utterly tender and luxurious without losing a lick of its nutrients. (For real, you get in there and massage the high heck out of the kale. It is so satisfying!) I don’t care for sunflower seeds much, so I substituted toasted walnuts, and used dried cranberries in place of the currants. The finished product was so bright and beautiful and full of contrasting flavors and textures and KALE and, for such autumnal ingredients, it made me want to run under a waterfall and grow 100 new freckles. I could eat this salad forever.

See? Happy!

And my other favorite part about the meal? Oh my god, strained yogurt!

Binnur, from The Turkish Cookbook writes:

About a thousand years ago, Central Asian Turks were the first to make Yogurt. As it was first spreading into Europe, this dairy product was used for therapeutic purposes. The word comes from the Turkish word “yoğurt”, deriving from the verb “yoğurtmak”, which means “to blend” – a reference to how yogurt is made. It is consumed plain or as a side dish or to make soups, desserts, sauce, to marinate meat and it is a big part of Turkish Cuisine. You can’t find a Turkish house without yogurt.

You should eat yogurt every day, at least one cup. Yogurt has beneficial bacteria, calcium and protein. We believe yogurt cleanses the body from toxins and poisons.

But to make? It involves a lot of squeezing and straining and waiting (the stuff I enjoyed was strained overnight), but in the end you’ll have crazily thick, tangy yogurt. Blended with garlic and mint, then spread on roasted eggplant? Delicious! With a sprinkle of sugar and nuts, or honey and fresh thyme? Delicious! And don’t forget that it contains friendly, live acidophilus cultures (a probiotic).

See? Even more happy!

And for dessert? For me, it is fresh-squeezed lemonade with macerated mint and Twin Peaks. For you, it’s recipes for delicious Turkish mezes.

Continue Reading »

It’s been overcast lately. Obscenely and depressingly overcast. Inexcusably overcast. While the weather report does hold some hope for the days to come (up to 89°, if weather.com is to be trusted), that doesn’t stop one from doing several vitamin d-deprived sulks around the house.

Screw this.

Last time I’d been in a mood like this, I made a nostalgia-ridden comfort food (pierogis); this time, I’m simply going for flat-out comfort with no nostalgic ties: mujaddara.

I highly doubt that this is an authentic recipe, as I pulled it directly from the pages of Veganomicon; but, to be fair, it doesn’t look as if there is any one recipe (or name or origin) for mujaddara that is considered the be all and end all of this ridiculously simple, yet utterly homey dish of lentils, onions, and rice.

The loveliest thing about mujaddara is that you’re not simply dealing with onions… you’re dealing with caramelized onions. And I do love me a caramelized onion. I’ve had problems with them in the past, as I’d stuck with the stove for my endeavors, but Veganomicon taught me a convenient trick: use the oven! Genius. I usually use 2 lbs of sweet yellow onions cut into thin rings and thoroughly coated in ¾ c. of olive oil; today, I used Walla Walla onions from the farmers market, because I adore these sweet Washington State friends. Veganomicon informs me that I only need to turn my oven up to 400°, pop my onions in, stir frequently, and in 25-30 minutes there will be beautifully caramelized onions waiting for me. Not so! I’ve gone up to an hour+, checking and stirring frequently, until my onions are golden brown (with a few burnt edges), sweet, and fragrant.

I have no idea how long I spent caramelizing my onions today, as I was preoccupied with working on illustrations.

Aren't they pretty?

Some folks like green or brown lentils in their mujaddara; but I really enjoy red lentils here, because they mash up so nicely. I soak 1 c. of my red friends while simmering 4c. water, 1c. of basmati rice, a cinnamon stick, and a few whole cloves for about 15 minutes. All ready? Time to gently fluff the rice, then in goes 1c. red lentils, ½tsp. allspice, and 1½tsp. cumin. Bring everything back up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45min.

Red lentils, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and basmati rice.

This is where you may want to go back to something like, oh, working on more illustrations. Just be mindful to watch the clock, or you’ll have sad, inedible rice and lentils burned to the bottom of your pot. Turn off the heat, let everything sit still covered for about 10min, then fold in all of those ugly as heck beautiful caramelized onions and any remaining olive oil.

Despite its wonderful flavor, mujaddara is possibly one of the most homely looking meals imaginable. Easy solution: grilled asparagus and (!) lemons (!) offset an unimpressive plop of beige in the most delicious of ways.

Have I mentioned how good grilled lemons are?

שמחה ,والسعادة, ευτυχία, mutluluk

I’ve taken apart my studio in the Atelier and have set it up at home; but, more importantly, where are the blueberries?

Still piggy-backing on Jess and Krista’s locavore challenge, we set out to stock up on dainties from the farmer’s market. Since my last pierogi-making adventure, I’d wanted to make purple pierogis (utilizing the Mountain Roses I’d used for colcannon) with baby leeks and grilled sweet Walla Walla onions. Guess what? The potato man didn’t have a single, solitary potato. Not a one!

That’s okay. There were still leeks and onions and greens and the last (!) asparagus of the season. Now on to find blueberries!

Since my last pierogi-making adventure, I’d gotten lots of recommendations for sweet pierogis (namely prune or blueberry); and being one who would rather stuff her dumpling with a juicy berry than a withered prune, I went on the hunt. Raspberries? Oh, yes, loads. Strawberries? Loads of those, too. Blueberries? Nary.

As much as it pained me to do so, I made another trip to QFC.

Today’s sweet pierogis (a/k/a breakfast for lunch) are my adaptation of a recipe from the Polish American Journal. I stuck to it for the most part, but omitted the corn starch and added lemon zest and nutmeg.

Oh, and I used ricotta cheese. Does this completely negate the pierogi-ness of my pierogis? Would it still be a pierogi if I’d used farmer’s cheese? Does the pierogi rely on shape alone? And if I haven’t made a pierogi, what have I made? A pierogi-shaped blintz?

Whatever I made, it was not the most photogenic of meals. They were, however, ridiculously tasty.

Maybe next time, the Mountain Roses will be back. Then I can satisfy my desire to have an all-purple quasi-pierogi meal.

When laying eyes on a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, one’s first reaction is often awe. Once the awe settles, one’s second reaction is often how on earth did the artist do that? While infinite factors play in to creating a beautifully satisfying drawing (proper measuring, composition, gesture, form, light, *gasp* emotion…), it is imperative to set these factors into motion with the proper materials; and when using these materials, one should prepare them in an exacting manner; and for a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, it behooves one to have finely-sharpened charcoal.

The charcoal drawings from the Aristides Atelier are made using H (hard) and HB (medium) and, on occasion, B (soft) vine charcoal. While Savoire Faire Nitram charcoals were favored by many, they have since gone out of business; at present, new students favor Prismacolor, Grumbacher, or Windsor and Newton. Here, Katt displays her unsharpened sticks of Prismacolor vine charcoal.

Unsharpened Vine Charcoal

In order to sharpen your charcoal, you will need a sheet of 220 grit sandpaper. Many students find it helpful to cut this paper down to a smaller, more manageable size. If you like, you can glue your sandpaper to a small piece of masonite, as you will want to have it against a hard surface when you are sharpening your charcoal. When using this method, make sure that your sandpaper and masonite are cut to the same size.

Sanding Pad

If you have not glued your sandpaper to a masonite board, the edge of any hard surface is suitable. Place your stick of charcoal flat against the surface of the sandpaper, being careful not to press too hard– this could result in your delicate vine charcoal snapping in half– and gently sharpen as you rotate the charcoal to give even treatment to each side. Bear in mind that this is a somewhat slow process; you want your charcoal to slowly build up to a needle-fine point and long taper. Again, try not to put pressure on your charcoal while sharpening, as this may cause the point to snap.

Sanding Seen from Above

Sanding Seen from Down Low

Viola! Your charcoal is sharpened and ready to go. You will notice that the stick has a very long taper– this is ultimately time-saving when you are mid-drawing, as you do not have to sharpen these sticks as frequently. It is suggested that you sharpen as many sticks of charcoal as possible prior to working on your drawing; this allows for more time spent on beautiful rendering and less time on sharpening.

Sharpened Charcoal

And, lastly, what should one do with those tiny little charcoal nubs? Don’t toss them just yet. Katt has come up with an ingenious method that allows for one to salvage the last bits of charcoal and make them perfectly use-able for rendering. Simply use electrical or artist’s tape to secure them to a small bamboo skewer (you can cut the skewer for a comfortable length) and sharpen accordingly.

Nubs Before

Nubs After

Happy drawing & tremendous hugs and thanks to Katt for sharpening charcoal for these photos!

Another year at the Aristides Atelier has drawn to a close.

Aristides Atelier Program Opening

Being one who thrives with structure (i.e. having to be in a set place, on a set schedule), this is a slight source of anxiety for me. Seattle has wakened in the beautiful (albeit distracting) glow of green and mountains and balmy Summer temperatures, and I’m faced with the less-structured months ahead. The remedy to this is writing my own schedule (write for the Atelier site, finish projects, illustrate, and/or work on color [!] charts on these days, at this time) and putting together some semblance of a workspace in our tiny, tiny apartment… but I digress.

What I am saying good-bye to after this, my second of four years in the Atelier, is grisaille: “a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey.”

I spent my first year of study drawing: I drew from still-life, from master copies, and from the model; I sharpened charcoal to needly little points (more on that later) and spent many a meditative and/or frustrating hour turning Fabriano Ingres paper into meticulously rendered velvet; I came close to losing vision when leaning my face this close to the surface in order to pick out that one microscopic fleck of dark that no-one but myself would ever notice. You’d think that I’d have been tickled pink to move on to paint, yes? Think again: I was terrified. I’d always been more frustrated with my lack of painting ability than I had with my lack of drawing ability, and here I was about to come face-to-face with my demon.

Deep breath.

It wasn’t so bad. It was, in fact, utterly frustrating and hair-pulling and tear-inducing… but bad? It wasn’t anything close to the frustration of panel-tossing and brush-snapping that I’d experienced prior to beginning my classical realist studies. I wasn’t fumbling blindly; I was given a set way to go about things; and that year of painstaking drawing turned painting into something that finally made sense.

I was given the proper way to mix my grey scale from a mere three tubes of paint (again, painstaking, but somehow soothing).

Grisaille Palette

I broke down tone to its simplest elements in the form of poster studies.

Poster Study of Courbet's La Bacchante

And finally, somehow, painting the figure and the still life started to make sense.

First Grisaille Figure Study: Handsclasped (Yma) - oil on panel - 2009

First Grisaille Still Life: Sleepyhead (Self Portrait Cast) - oil on panel - 2010

That’s not to say that, months after the above paintings were completed, I don’t still have my problems: why do my whites dry out so dark? Why can’t my transitions be smoother? Why isn’t my brushwork as even as her’s? And why isn’t there the luxury of a whole other year to spend on grisaille before plummeting headfirst into a new year of new terrors?

Au revoir, l’an deux. Au revoir (for now), Atelier. Grisaille? We will see each other ’til we part ways in September.

Arstides Atelier students with the donors to the Madison Studio - Best of Gage - 2010

It is June, it is raining, and it is a Saturday; Farmer’s Market shopping may not happen tomorrow, due to family arriving in town for the first time in over 3 (!) years; you are slightly hung-over due to the accessibility of free wine at last night’s Best of Gage (where, unlike last year, you did not win any awards).

Beautiful Alexis - First Place, Figure - 2009

You are grouse-y about art, painting, and drawing in general, yet you have at least three pieces to finish up before next Friday (one fully rendered charcoal drawing and two grisaille paintings); your hair is snarled and in need of a wash, your apartment needs to be cleaned before the arrival of aforementioned family, and all you want to do is lay in bed and watch reality television all day. You are, in a word, cranky. But! In lieu of sulking in bed all day! You decide to pluck up! And remedy the situation! By combining comfort foods! With! Nostalgia!

My family goes back in Pittsburgh time possibly as far as anyone can remember, as far back as when the Northern Irish blood got booted from the motherland for Emmet’s Rebellion. While my parents both grew up in the city proper (North Side and Wikinsburgh), we girlish offspring were raised about ½ an hour North of the city. Unlike the rest of the family, I flew the coop as soon as I was able; and while I actually did live in the City of Pittsburgh for a whopping 4 years, I would never ever want to live there again. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nostalgic, and especially for the food:

Bagels with capers and cream cheese and red onion and lox. The real kind, not Noah’s bagels.
A proper falafel, hummus, and kebab in the tucked-away basement Mediterranean Grill.
Decent Northern Indian food. Any decent Northern Indian food.
A crispy boxty at Piper’s Pub.
A comforting brunch at the Quiet Storm.
And, of course, delicious delicious delicious pierogis.

If you were raised in Pittsburgh, or near Pittsburgh, or by a Pittsburghers, you’ll have been fed pierogis from the time you were ready for solids; and, if you were a picky little brat like me, you will have refused to put them anywhere near your mouth because you despised onions. That being beside the point, Pittsburghers cooked up all sorts of pierogis in the kitchen: those made from scratch, those purchased from the little grandmothers at Pierogis Plus, or straight from a box of Mrs. T’s (in the frozen section at your local Giant Iggle). Pierogis were stuffed with onion, potato, and cheese, boiled, then sauteed in butter and onion and served with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Sometimes, fanciness came into play and you’d be treated to an applesauce garnish, or a pierogi stuffed with rattlesnake meat (no kidding). Pierogis could be a meal in and of themselves, or the complement to sauerkraut and grilled kielbasa. You don’t need to be Polish to enjoy a pierogi (although it is a Polish treat), but being from Pittsburgh (a very Polish city) definitely helps.

OK, we’ve got the nostalgia down. Now you understand the reasoning behind my complete and utter need to have pierogis today. So let’s make pierogis, shall we?

There are about 1,001 pierogi recipes out there. While this may be daunting to some, it was easy for me to make my selection: I went with the woman who grew up in Pittsburgh. Viola! I did make a few changes to her recipe, just because I feel confident enough in my pierogi palate to do so: in place of onions, I used leeks (grilled per this fella’s instructions and because I love me some leeks).

Grillings of leeks.

In place of red potatoes, I used Yukon Golds (because they are creamier) and kept the skin on (because I like the skin). Everything else, I kept as-is. Pierogi-making, by the way, is a time-consuming process. Not only is there dough to be made and refrigerated, but then grilling and filling, rolling and cutting, and stuffing and folding. In my split minute decision to make pierogis, I had forgotten that I don’t own a rolling pin; so there was a bit of panic and the remedy of a wine bottle (excellent rolling pin stand-in, by the way) tossed in as well.

Cuttings.

Stuffings.

I was terrifically afraid that the pierogis were going to fall apart when I boiled them or when I sauteed them with yet more leeks, but guess what? They held together beautifully, I got my plateful of nostalgia, I was distracted enough to be not as cranky, and everyone wound up happy (and full) in the end.

Kocham pierogi!

Music for pierogi-making: Einstürzende Neubauten
Music for pierogi-eating: Hossein Alizadeh